Conventional Wisdom: A History of American Political Conventions
In the coming weeks, delegates from the Republican and Democratic parties will gather at highly choreographed events to formally anoint their respective presidential nominees. But the decisions that these conventioneers make will for the most part have been cemented long before.
But American political conventions haven’t always been so uneventful. The conventions that led to American independence and our Constitution were anything but predetermined. In the 19th century, dark horse candidates emerged out of smoke-filled rooms to take the reins of their political parties, while disenfranchised groups in American society, such as women and African Americans, held their own conventions to debate the radical measures that they would take to achieve equality. New Englanders in 1814 and Southerners in 1860 met in conventions to determine whether they would secede from the Union. Even in the 20th century, struggles over who would have a voice in the Democratic conventions of 1964 and 1968 showed that conventions could still be pretty surprising.
In this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys will explore some of the reasons American political conventions lost their punch. Considering the radical nature of conventions in the past, why does “conventional” connote “blasé” today? Please help us to shape this episode—post your unconventional comments, questions, and ideas below!